Hybrid Working - Alexandra Farmer

Hybrid working: looking after your teams within the law

Following our recent Hybrid Working webinar, we spent some time speaking with Alexandra Farmer, Head of Team and Solicitor at Ellis Whittam, the specialist Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety firm. She’s perfectly placed to share her insights about this important and topical subject.

Are there any major pitfalls of switching to a permanent hybrid working model?

With many businesses now accepting that a full-time office workforce isn’t always necessary, more flexible ways of working are being kept in place after more than a year of homeworking arrangements. At first, working from home was viewed as a temporary emergency situation, but time and technology have proved that goals can still be achieved if things are done correctly. Alexandra explained some of the issues businesses are facing, after the period of change we’ve all experienced:

Alexandra responded: “Many businesses have decided that working from home has a place in their operational model moving forwards. They are looking to make the once temporary emergency situations, permanent solutions and there are many benefits of this. First and foremost, businesses need to consider what version of hybrid working their organisation is adopting. If they’ll be offering a fully flexible working environment where staff can choose whether to work from home or not on a day-to-day basis? Or will there be a more structured hybrid working model with a mix of pre-agreed time in and out of the office. Businesses have needed to find ways to keep operations running through the pandemic, but now they need to consider how to optimise work. This means that having people in the office for meetings and training might be preferable to working via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Also, spending time in the office as a team or department can be hugely beneficial and is a way of maintaining bonds within your workforce.”

Alexandra explained: “Technology and equipment will be a big issue for some businesses. In March last year, many people simply had to take equipment home to allow work to continue. So now, businesses need to think about what their team members need to make flexibility possible. Certain roles might use specialist technology that can only be provided in one place. Heavy data processing might need to be supported by high-specification computers or multiple screen set-ups, for example.”

She questioned: “Do your people have the right communications technology at home, supported by reliable software at the office or in the cloud? Do they need one laptop or separate workstation setups for the home and the office? Are home connections, such as broadband, suitable for the systems in place?”

Alexandra concluded: “Once the physical equipment is taken care of, the reality of managing teams remotely needs to be addressed. Your managers and team leaders may be doing a fantastic job, but it‘ll be beneficial to make sure that they’re given opportunities to obtain and hone the skills required to manage teams remotely.”

How will organisations be able to bring new starters on board in hybrid working set-ups?”

Alexandra provided her thoughts: “Onboarding new starters is something which has definitely needed to change. However, the changes might not be as difficult to achieve as you might think. It is a good idea to base new starters from the office for a short time for several reasons. First, making sure that equipment and technology is available and set up correctly is usually easier to do on-site. Then giving your new starters the best chance of fitting into their teams and getting used to the systems is important. While not everyone will be in the office, making sure that guidance is available from people in the workplace is essential if you’re going to get the most out of your new hires.

She continued: “Some time spent in the office is the ideal opportunity to see how new starters are fitting in. Early issues can be dealt with more quickly and questions or concerns can be addressed before your workers are expected to work from home. It’s also a good opportunity to set expectations about how the hybrid working arrangements work in your organisation, as every workplace will be slightly different.”

Alexandra finished by saying: “Finally, make sure time is set aside to check in with new starters after their first few weeks or month. It’s not only a great opportunity to make sure that their new role is going ok for them, but new starters can be a useful source of new ideas and suggestions, especially in relation to their onboarding experience.

Alexandra not only advises her clients about their HR and Employment Law issues but also manages her own teams remotely.

She offered us some practical advice: “For many people, managing teams remotely is a skill set that requires learning and practising. Businesses should check whether their managers and team leaders are trained and experienced, putting training in place where it’s needed.”

Alexandra added: “Consider how you will perform your regular management tasks in future. How will assessments be done? How often will you have team meetings and individual feedback sessions? Will you have these in the office or via Zoom/Teams/phone calls? Also consider your data reporting routines, to keep the right people in the loop about performance statistics: it’s a well-known fact that allowing your people to own their performance can help them to deliver better results. Do your reporting systems allow this to happen?”

She concluded: “When it comes to managing people in any situation, it’s too easy to overlook the quiet and focus on easily identifiable issues. When remote and hybrid workers make up your team, it’s even more important to make sure that you are devoting enough time to everyone, not just those with obvious needs.”

How can you bring about a positive change in your business as you implement hybrid working?

Alexandra explained: “Hybrid working is not an emergency response to the pandemic any longer. To make this a permanent option for staff there are some things that all businesses need to consider:

  1. Your staff may need contractual amendments to suit their new working arrangements. Their place of work will be changing so contracts of employment will need to take account of this. There are also a number of other clauses advised for those hybrid working such as confidentiality and security.
  2. Have a ‘hybrid working policy’ in place. Not only will this make it easier for your teams to understand their new working situation, it will provide a consistent set of guidelines across the organisation. Writing this policy will also force your management team to consider the important issues and develop a common understanding of how they are being addressed in your company.
  3. Set acceptable professional and personal standards. These will vary from business to business, making it important to communicate clearly what is expected of your people. The realities of working from home, whether some or all of the time, mean that making it clear how much privacy is needed for calls, whether interruptions from the household are ok, the level of acceptable background noise and other factors are important to set expectations for your team members. In some cases, this might make it impossible for individuals to work from home, which enables a constructive conversation to happen before problems occur.
  4. Prepare for formal Flexible Working Requests. With over a year of working from home being a reality for many people, it may be difficult to refuse a new request, but each case should be taken on its own merits. Not all roles in your company may be genuinely possible to work flexibly in the long term.”

Alexandra summarised: “Hybrid working, hot-desking and working from home are not new. In some businesses, they have been used successfully for years already. What’s new is the volume of flexible and hybrid working arrangements, and they are new in some environments. With the right help, changes to some arrangements and focused new policies, hybrid working can bring about successful change for a better workplace.”

What final thoughts do you have as we enter this exciting phase of contact centre and customer service working?

Alexandra replied: “Recent surveys have shown us that the impact on work output has not been severe. There have been some minimal reductions in performance in some businesses, but in many cases performance has positively improved.

 She added: “If your business is going to implement permanent hybrid working policies, there are long term considerations beyond getting your set up legally and organisationally correct.”

 Alexandra continued: “Think about the long-term welfare of your staff. How is your organisation going to ensure that your team members are not over or underworked? This might be down to your managers and team leaders but should be supported by your reporting regimes.”

 She said: “How are you going to keep a successful team ethos going? This applies equally to new starters and old hands. With less social interaction inside the workplace, how will you maintain strong bonds in your business? You might need to think about more structured team events, days together inside or outside the office, team social lunches or other ideas to forge relationships and encourage idea sharing. Don’t restrict your team building to just your senior teams.”

 Alexandra concluded: “We’re already seeing that it’s possible to have a successful business using hybrid working. With a few steps taken carefully while you’re reforming your business after the Covid impact, a strong foundation can be used to build high performing teams with a common understanding and shared goals. The coming years are likely to be exciting for customer service operations who embrace the change.”

We’d like to thank Alexandra for her time and her insights. If your business is facing the challenges of making hybrid working successful, contact us.

Contact us today and one of our skilled staff will assess your requirements and provide recommendations on future steps.